By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Angel Lopez, an up and coming sports apparel designer, has never forgotten where he came from and the people who helped him along the way.
Lopez, whose new company, Novato Sports Apparel, designs and manufactures apparel for basketball, baseball, football, and soccer teams, has pledged to donate a percentage of his profits to a Sunset Park-based organization that helps at-risk youth turn their lives around.
Lopez said the organization Opportunities For A Better Tomorrow (OBT) helped him several years ago when he was a teenager with no direction. “They helped me big time,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “OBT is the foundation for the business world for me.”
Founded in 1983 by Sister Mary Franciscus, a Catholic nun who lived in Sunset Park, OBT provides classes for high-school dropouts seeking GED diplomas, college prep courses, internships with businesses, public speaking lessons, job interview tips, and other types of assistance to young people eager to get their lives back on track. Randolph Peers, OBT’s executive director, said Franciscus was worried at the time that young people in the neighborhood were throwing their lives away by joining violent street gangs. “We continue her legacy here 30 years later,” Peers said. Franciscus died in 2005. Her picture is still on the wall in the main office.
From its Sunset Park roots, OBT has grown to four more sites in Brooklyn and Queens, including Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Jamaica, and is currently working with more than 3,500 young people, according to Leah Hebert, the organization’s spokeswoman.
In an effort to foster a sense of disciple and professionalism, OBT requires its students to wear business attire. No jeans and T-shirts are allowed.
Lopez came to OBT’s headquarters at 783 Fourth Ave. on Sept. 20 to make the official announcement of his donation. With his wife Elizabeth at his side, Lopez announced that he would be giving one percent of his company’s profits back to OBT. “You should never forget where you came from,” Lopez said. He was overcome with emotion and cried at the podium
“We’re here to celebrate one of our own. He’s a hero,” Peers said. Prior to coming aboard OBT, Peers was the vice president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
Lopez’s promise could bring OBT a great deal of money in the future, since Novato Sports Apparel has been signing up clients left and right. “Hopefully Novato grows and OBT grows,” Lopez said. The company takes orders online. “Any design we come up with, we can put on fabric,” Lopez said.
Among Novato's clients is the Staten Island Musketeers, a youth basketball program on Staten Island. “Angel is one of a kind,” Musketeers President Israel Detres, told the Eagle.
Lopez is also working with the Brooklyn Blackouts, a semi-pro baksetball team.
Lopez graduated from the OBT educational program 15 years ago. He originally came to OBT after his graduation from Fort Hamilton High School. “A friend told me about OBT. I had no sense of direction. I wasn't sure about college. They really helped me straighten my life out,” he said. Through an internship that OBT arranged for him at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, Lopez became interested in a career in law enforcement. He eventually worked as a detective investigator for the DA. He is currently a Port Authority police officer. Novato is a business he operates on the side.
Novato means “new beginning,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s success could provide an example to OBT’s current students, Peers said. One of those current students, Bernadette Alvarado, said Lopez’s story has given her hope. “I feel like I can accomplish my future goals with their help,” she said, referring to OBT. “I feel like I can accomplish so much more,” she said.